A presentation about the state’s Next Level Recovery Program was provided by One Southern Indiana during a virtual meeting Wednesday. 
Screen shot
A presentation about the state’s Next Level Recovery Program was provided by One Southern Indiana during a virtual meeting Wednesday. Screen shot
SOUTHERN INDIANA — After missing a shot in 2015 at garnering millions of dollars for regional projects, Southern Indiana leaders are rallying support for a new initiative that could yield pandemic recovery funding.

The Indiana House has approved the Next Level Recovery Program, with the Senate expected to consider the legislation as outlined by Gov. Eric Holcomb. It’s estimated to create a pool of $150 million for state regions.

Details are being ironed out, and the amount of available funding could go up or down depending on revenue forecasts and federal stimulus by the time the state legislature agrees on a budget. But One Southern Indiana and regional partners are raising awareness about the potential funding with the hopes of applying for funding — a goal that was met with resistance six years ago.

“If approved, this program will look an awful lot like the 2015 Regional Cities Initiative,” said Wendy Dant Chesser, president and CEO of 1si.

In 2015 the Floyd County Council declined to take part in forming a regional development authority. Floyd County’s population level was needed in order to form the RDA, and the effort collapsed.

In 2017, Clark, Floyd, Jefferson, Scott and Washington counties agreed to form the Our Southern Indiana Regional Development Authority, but it was too late by then for the entity to seek the $126 million in funds that had already been directed to the three Indiana regions with RDAs.

One of the major issues some Floyd County officials had in 2015 was that RDAs had eminent domain authority. The state legislature removed that power from the regional groups in 2017 which cleared the way for Our Southern Indiana.

The RDA was awarded $150,00 to form a regional economic development plan. Though Our Southern Indiana wasn’t established in time to seek the Regional Cities grants, its blueprint received the 2020 Economic Plan of the Year by the Indiana Planning Association.

The plan prioritized regional needs like broadband expansion, collaboration, trails and marketing and branding.

While quality of place projects that can spur population growth are again expected to be favored, Chesser said efforts that address societal woes such as drug addiction and mental illness are likely to be included in applications for the Next Level Recovery Program.

“It’s opening the door for a side of regional discussion and regional problem-solving that we didn’t have when we had the Regional Cities conversations in 2015,” she said.

And multiple economic development officials who took part in a Wednesday virtual meeting said there’s ample need in Southern Indiana for such services.

“We see a lot of money coming in for trails and the fun stuff, but I see very little money dedicated specifically for our substance abuse and mental health issues in Southern Indiana,” said Lisa Long, president of the Harrison County Chamber of Commerce.

Linda Speed, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana, said the organization is nearing completion of an updated needs assessment. Mental health and substance abuse treatment are among the top priorities in that assessment, she said.

Though the region failed to come together in 2015 to pursue funding, Speed said the efforts by Our Southern Indiana and other partners has put the region in an advantageous position to potentially pursue the relief initiative.

Speed specifically referenced the work of Align Southern Indiana, which partners needs and resources in the area to improve quality of life and education and enhance economic development.

“I think there’s a lot of groundwork that’s already been done that could be very, very helpful with the application to show regionally we’re already taking on some of these things and that funding could only enhance them,” she said.

Officials representing local chambers of commerce as well as River Hills Economic Development District Regional Planning Commission participated in Wednesday’s informational meeting, the first of three slated for this week.

Chesser emphasized that while the local RDA may take the lead on the application, partnerships will be key to its success.

Early indications show that applications will need to cite private and public investment that could correlate with private investment.

Along with mental health and substance abuse services, Chesser said a local application could include other projects that would benefit the region. For example, the addition of a traffic control tower for Clark County Regional Airport could have a sizable impact for Southern Indiana, she said.

It’s anticipated that if approved through the legislature, details could be finalized in June with applications due by the end of the year.

While other nonprofits can apply, Chesser said state officials have indicated that one application per region would be favored.

“I think there’s some strong support for the RDA to take the lead on this,” she said.

For additional information on the local RDA, go to oursoinrda.org.
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